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Friday Facepalm: Science, It’s a Girl Thing

she blinded me with science

I’ve kind of got a thing for alliteration, and when I came up with the phrase “Friday Facepalm,” it seemed irresistible. The problem, of course, is that facepalmy-things have six other days of the week to happen. But today, the Science: It’s a Girl Thing campaign crossed my internet path, perfectly timed for maximum alliterative success. Science: It’s a Girl Thing is an effort by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research and Innovation, a pan-European governmental oragnization, and its goal is to get young girls interested in science and more women into scientific careers.

So it’s really unfortunate that they also made this video. Go ahead and watch. Update: It appears the video has been taken down. Good move, Science: It’s a Girl Thing.

[To sum up the video, it features three women in stiletto heals and sunglasses who appear in a sort of neutral space. A young, conventionally attractive man in a lab coat looks up from some indistinct test tubes with awe. Then the women appear to enter some sort of lady-science space where nail polish is examined beneath a microscope, lipstick gets melted, test tubes and beakers full of clear liquid or dry ice bubble with no apparent purpose, ‘H’ shaped tables represent hydrogen, and notations are (in two very quick shots) are scribbled on a transparent white board. Other than the scribbles, the women pose and moe faces for the audience, rather than actually interacting with any of the equipment. Then they replace their sunglasses with safety glasses, as the slogan “Science: It’s a Girl Thing” is sung over the end of the video.]

Contrary to all appearances, this is actually an attempt to make science seem relevant to young girls, instead of a story about three sexy ladies who distract a diligent researcher from his work in their lab-inappropriate clothing and ruin his experiments by throwing lipstick and nail polish in them.

That’s a little bit hyperbolic, but among the many distortions made in this video (like setting aside the awesome achievements of modern science in favor of flashy “scientific” visuals, the familiar association of “lady science” with cosmetics, and that almost nobody in this video is actually shown “doing science”), the most obvious one to me is that the filmmakers were probably trying to make these ladies look confident and attractive, not like objects for consumption. They screwed up.

This isn’t a particularly hard distinction to make, but it’s one that society still gets confused about a lot. Creating a female power fantasy is not the same as creating a (straight) male sexual fantasy (and vice versa). And while there’s nothing wrong with personally wanting to be someone’s (or a lot of people’s) sexual fantasy, there is something wrong using with “male sexual fantasy” as the default and overwhelmingly dominant way that women are depicted. And it’s really too bad. Because the other videos that Science: It’s a Girl Thing have put out are really awesome. I mean, check these out:

Real interviews, with real women, doing some incredible science, with some really slick editing. If Science: It’s a Girl Thing gets ignored based on the first video in this post, intended to be the teaser trailer for the campaign, it will be too bad. But it will also be entirely Science: It’s a Girl Thing’s fault.

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.